It is invariably a sad occasion when employees lose jobs through no fault of their own.
This applies to the 250 job losses at the ABC that were announced by its managing director, David Anderson, on Wednesday. As it does to the forthcoming 6000 job cuts at Qantas, as well as to those recently announced in sections of the commercial media.
It’s just that the public broadcaster is self-obsessed, which has led in recent days to prominent ABC identities bemoaning at large — on air and in social media — about the ABC’s fate. Michael Rowland has tweeted about the Coalition’s “funding cuts” and Ellen Fanning has lamented what she termed $84m worth of cuts.
In fact, commonwealth government funding to the ABC is increasing in absolute terms in 2021-22 compared with 2018-19 — an overall increase of around 2.5 per cent. This when the economy is contracting because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What sections of the ABC portray as cuts is a pause in funding to take account of inflation, which has been halted for three years. In other words, the ABC will receive less funding across three years than it expected.
According to the ABC, this will be around $84m across three years. But, in view of the current low rate of inflation, it could be closer to $56m across the same period.
Now that’s a significant amount, but not big money in an organisation that receives more than $1bn annually.
This is a task that an efficient business should be able to accommodate readily without significant trauma or complaint.
Like his predecessor Mark Scott, the ABC managing director seems to give interviews only on the public broadcaster and eschews contact with commercial media.
The problem with this strategy is that Anderson does not have to face tough questions since such are rarely forthcoming when an employee interviews the boss.
Take this week, for example. Patricia Karvelas interviewed her managing director and editor-in-chief on Wednesday evening.
She asked whether “diversity” was a key criterion that he had set for the ABC. Anderson replied that the ABC set out to “reflect the diversity of contemporary Australia”. This in terms of “who we have on our staff” along with “geographical” and “socio-economic” diversity.
Well, that’s good in so far as it goes. But it does not go far enough. There was no reference to political diversity even though, by its charter, the ABC is required to cover the views of Australians.
It seems that Anderson is content for the ABC to remain a conservative-free zone without a conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets.
It seems that ABC senior management is in denial about problems caused to the public broadcaster because, to many Australians, it is perceived as a taxpayer-funded green-left outfit.
When Grahame Morris was John Howard’s chief of staff a quarter of a century ago, he cleverly described the ABC as “our enemies talking to our friends”.
At that time there was significant support for the public broadcaster within the partyrooms of both the Liberals and the Nationals — especially among parliamentarians from rural and regional Australia who relied on the ABC for coverage.
Those days are over.
The arrival of Foxtel subscription television in 1995, along with its Sky News channel the following year, opened up national TV coverage and provided an alternative outlet to the ABC.
Since then there has been the explosion of the internet and social media. This has led to a situation whereby the public broadcaster has lost its one-time political clout.
Take ABC TV’s Q&A. In the lead-up to last year’s May 18 election, Tony Jones, the presenter at the time, urged Scott Morrison to come on the program. He even asserted that if the Prime Minister went on Q&A he “might get a sense of what the public was thinking”. The invitation was not accepted.
As it turned out Morrison won an election that every ABC presenter who proffered a view said he would lose.
Last Monday, incumbent Q&A presenter Hamish Macdonald registered a tone of complaint when he told the audience that Attorney-General Christian Porter and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had declined to come on the program this week.
Macdonald fails to understand that senior Coalition politicians no longer need to go on Q&A, where they invariably face a hostile audience, a left-of-centre panel and a presenter who fails to protect right-of-centre guests from unprofessional behaviour.
Only one cabinet minister, along with two ministers, has appeared on Q&A’s 21 programs so far this year.
This is indicative of the diminished support for the ABC among conservatives.
And the public broadcaster wonders why the government fails to give it more money rather than to spend scarce public funds on, say, attempting to combat domestic violence.
Malcolm Turnbull was a strong supporter of the ABC. But as opposition communications spokesman he thought the organisation could be run more efficiently. In his memoir A Bigger Picture, Turnbull writes that even in 2013, the year that saw the election of the Abbott government, he was planning on “making savings” at the public broadcaster.
The cut by ABC management (not the government) that seems to have caused most concern in the community turns on the decision to junk the 7.45am radio news bulletin. Reaction appears to have been strongest in rural and regional areas, which tend to vote for the Coalition rather than Labor or the Greens.
Anderson was interviewed by Rowland and Lisa Millar on ABC TV News Breakfast on Thursday. Neither asked the hard question: namely, what will the ABC save by abandoning a 15-minute news bulletin in an annual budget of over $1bn?
The ABC is the only media entity in Australia — and one of only a few among the Western nations — that is guaranteed a three-year income stream at any one time.
Sure, the current job losses are a personal blow to those concerned.
But no journalist is currently as secure in their job as an ABC employee.